By Roman Khazin
Sam Raimi was disappointed when he saw the list of courses available to him.
The fourth-year architecture student couldnt take art history courses because they were not available for his program. He said he would have benefited from studying art history along with architectural history, which his program teaches. Raimi also wanted to study languages other than French and Spanish. In particular, he wanted to take Japanese, which is offered through the Chang School of Continuing Education. He had no luck enrolling in that, either.
Instead, Raimi had to take “regular, dry arts electives” — philosophy and sociology courses.
“I didn’t really learn as much from the philosophy or sociology courses,” he said. “I don’t see why architecture students shouldn’t take art history.”
He also said language courses would be more valuable than philosophy or sociology courses because “language skills carry over past university.”
Meanwhile, Ryerson is considering making changes that will allow students like Raimi to avoid such problems. Ryerson’s registrar, Keith Alnwick, said the university has been considering reducing restrictions placed on the lists of professionally-related courses since fall 2007.
“This is potentially another phase where we can fine-tune what we’re doing [with the curriculum],” he said.
Alnwick said Ryerson wants to make the change to give students more courses to choose from. At the same time, the university is studying how to maximize the benefits of such a change.
The administration has been in contact with the university’s academic departments, who decide which courses are considered professionally related, Alnwick said. A decision has not been made yet and Alnwick added that the university would carefully consider making any changes.
He stressed that Ryerson must ensure the additional courses fit students’ schedules, which could be difficult because students in different programs have core courses scheduled at different times.
To deal with this, the university is considering offering more of these professionally-related courses in the evening, when they would not get in the way of students’ internships and practical placements. This move would ensure that students can take the new courses available to them, which Alnwick said is key.
“If we don’t deal with access challenges, any benefit will be modest,” he said.
Ryerson has also considered the challenges that may come from some courses being more popular than others. Alnwick said this is a particularly important issue in courses that are already popular. Many of these courses are already nearing their class size limits.
In cases like this, students’ choices might not actually increase because courses that are newly available to them would fill up very quickly.
“If we’ve made it an option and we don’t have the resources to meet the demand, we’ve got a lot more people who we’re disappointing,” he said.
Other universities offer programs that promise less restrictions on course choice. However, those programs still have drawbacks.
The open learning division at Thompson Rivers University, located in Kamloops, B.C., places minimal or no restrictions on the courses students can take. However, program requirements still specify courses and subjects that students must study to receive a degree.
The University of Guelph’s open learning program, which is aimed at mature students, is similar. While it allows students to take any course they want, it still requires them to meet a program’s course requirements to receive a degree.
Ryerson administration, meanwhile, wants to carefully consider the issue before deciding whether to open its professionally-related course tables, said Alnwick. He doesn’t want the school to rush ahead and offer something outside it’s capabilities.
“It all depends on whether the choice is real.”